BY MARK SIMON
When we wrote our NL defense preview a few weeks ago, we referenced Brewers manager Craig Counsell and his high expectations for Brewers rookie second baseman Brice Turang.
Turang has lived up to the billing so far – just check out the nice plays he made against Jarred Kelenic on Wednesday (click here and here) and his relay throw to nail Jake McCarthy earlier this month (click here).
But there were a few other guys we should have been paying attention to as well within the Brewers’ strong start to the year.
The Brewers outfield has looked great through the first 19 games of the season and is the primary reason Milwaukee leads MLB with 18 Defensive Runs Saved. They’ve caught 64% of balls hit in the air to the outfield that stayed in the ballpark, the second-highest rate of any team. Christian Yelich has 2 Good Fielding Plays for catches (here’s one), as does another rookie, Joey Wiemer (if he can make a better one than this, we’ll be really impressed).
Let’s take a moment to explain Good Fielding Plays. These include the great defensive plays (the ones you’d expect to see on ESPN’s Web Gems or Top 10 Plays) but also things like cutting a ball off in the gap or keeping the ball on the infield to prevent a baserunner from taking an extra-base.
Speaking of Good Fielding Plays (we call them GFPs for short), we should take note that Brian Anderson, who’s split time between third base and right field after signing with the Brewers this past offseason, has 4 in 12 games at third base already (heck of a play here). He totaled 3 in 48 games last season. The Brewers infield is one spot behind the outfield. It ranks 3rd in how often it turns groundballs and bunts into outs, doing so 79% of the time.
Anderson has been a somewhat unexpected defensive stud. So has catcher William Contreras, who was obtained from the Braves in a three-way trade last December.
Contreras did not have a good reputation as a pitch framer. He’d accrued -6 Strike Zone Runs Saved (our framing stat) combined in 2021 and 2022. But so far this season, his pitch framing has graded well and Brewers pitchers have pitched to a 2.50 ERA in 13 games with him behind the plate (they ranked 6th in the NL last season with a 3.83 staff ERA). Captip to Brewers radio pre-game broadcaster Dom Cotroneo for his breakdown of what Contreras is doing differently now.
There’s a precedent for the Brewers taking a catcher with poor framing numbers and making him into a good pitch framer. They did it previously with Omar Narváez.
There’s precedent for the Brewers being a good defensive team too. In Counsell’s first seven full seasons as manager, spanning 2016-2022, the Brewers have the 4th-most Defensive Runs Saved in MLB.
We’re starting to like their chances for being good in 2023 too.
Most Defensive Runs Saved – 2016 to 2022
|Team||Defensive Runs Saved|